On our last leg in South Island we went from Punkaiki on the West Coast across to Kaikoura on the East, before hopping across to the North Island.
Punakaiki is a tiny "blink and you miss" it place on the coast, made famous by the geological mysteries that are the pancake rocks and blowholes. I'd heard it was nice, and I wasnt expecting much, but Punakaiki is a cracking little place in a gorgeous setting. Our campsite was a right on the beach and we went to sleep with the sound of the waves roaring that night. The pancake rocks and blowholes were much better than I thought they would be, Im not sure what I expected, but as it turned out, my inner child was fierce excited by the blowholes (no rude jokes please!). It was just after high tide, and the sea just was pretty ferocious so the blowholes were in full swing, everytime the waves crashed up through the gorges, a blast of mist would shoot out the top. Deadly!
The next day we drove across the Lewis Pass in the howling wind and rain to sunny Kaikoura on the East coast, famous for its abundance
of marine life (happy days!) due to a 1600m deep canyon just off the shore where warm and cool water currents converge, creating perfect conditions for an abundance of sealife the whole way up the food-chain to whales. What's more, its set against a backdrop of - wait for it - snowcapped mountains, as high as the canyon is deep. In short its really pretty! We booked ourselves in for dolphin swimming and whale watching trips for the next day and went for a walk around the Kaikoura peninsula, out along the shore and back along the cliff top. This lead to our first introduction to marine mammals - the New Zealand fur seal. They were practically in the carpark! Seriously, just over the kerb and out on the rocks, there they were. But we nearly missed them at first, they blend in so well. We were on top on one before we knew it. You've got to keep your distance, as cute and cuddly as they look, they can give a nasty bite! I must have taken 59,000 photos of them vegging out on the rocks. They were everywhere. And you could see the younger ones mock-fighting with one
another in practice for later life. There was also a plethora of bird life, which normally Im not that into, but they were quite cute - apart from the bastard seagulls that tried to dive bomb us every five minutes. In fairness, we were close enough to their chicks, so they were only being good parents. Our whale watch tour that afternoon was cancelled due to high winds and we rescheduled for the next day, praying that we'd get nice weather.
Well, we awoke to a calm sunny morning and arrived for our dolphin swim trip at 8am fierce excited. We suited up a 7mm full lenght wetsuit with a 7mm shortie on top of that, and booties, gloves & a hood as the water was a "fresh" 12 degrees. During the briefing, we were warned that the Dusky dolphins were totally wild, and that they may not be all that interested in us, and not to be disappointed if they were not. To get their attention and keep them entertained we were told to sing, squeal and squeak though our snorkles as loud as we could! Seriously! The skipper located the dolphins and at the signal we all
I see Granpa Simpson
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki
slid into the water. Once we recovered from the complete shock of the cold and our hearts started beating again, we frantically started singing and squeaking! Feck it, I thought, Im not going to get this chance again, I don't care how stupid I sound. Anyway, I know the dolphins will understand me, I thought to myself, they'll recognise a kindred spirit (I know Im loosing the run of myself here). Man, did the singing and squeaking work! Within a minute there we the most beautful black and white dusky dolphins all around us. They were close enough to touch (but we didnt of course), and you could see every little mark and scar on their bodies. They make full on eye-contact with you - and yes, their eyes do seem really intelligent and aware - and if you swim in circles, they swim in circles with you. They shoot below you, swim right up beside you, rocket around you and even leap out of the water above you - its just the most amazing experience, ever! I dont know how long we were in the water with them, but trying to swim in rapid "dolpin-like" circles while singing at
Another blowhole in action!
Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki. You can sort of see why they are called pancakes - if your pancakes were kind of jagged...
the top of your lungs is pretty tiring - but you are so pumped full of adreneline, it doesnt matter. We got to go swimming with two seperate pods, and I so didnt want to get out of the water when the skipper sounded the horn, as I still had three little friends around me, who were happy to play.
The last part of the dolphin trip is for taking photos of the duskies, if you and your camera are quick enough, as the dusky dolphins are really acrobatic, leaping out of the water in summersaults and thowing themselves back in, just to make big splashes for a laugh, it seems. We were in for an extra treat though, as we came across a juvenline humpback whale (Yay!!) who was in Kaikoura to fatten himself up. The crew had smelt his whale breath - and boy did it HOWL! Like, really, really stinky, Ive-been-on-the-batter-for-a-week-and-havent-cleaned-my-teeth,-plus-Ive-just-had-scampy, bad. Well he was so cute! He was pretty small, although still the size of our sister boat, so that's a relative term. He was playing away on the surface with the dolpins, sticking his pectoral fins out of the water, rolling onto his back
so his white belly was facing up and even stuck his lumpy head out to have a gander at us at one stage. It was deadly!
That afternoon the weather held, and we went out on the whale watching trip to try to find sperm whales. The skipper was using echolocation to try to find the whales, who dive to the bottom of the canyon for up to an hour, and only surface for about 15 minutes - so they are tricky enough to spot. They spermwhale echolocate their pray using a series of clicks and that's what he was listening out for. Once the clicks stop you know he is finished hunted and about to surface, so you keep your eyes out for a big stinky whale breath plume. The first one, Little Nicky (for the little nick on his dorsal fin), surfaced and we spent a good 15 mins watching him rest on the surface, blowing mist through his blowhole every minute or so. Then he took a few big breaths and we were told "okay, folks, he's getting ready to dive, cameras at the ready" and there it was - the money shot! As he angled
his his great body into the deep, his tail came up and he gave us a spectacular display of his fluke. It was deadly! After he dived, we managed to locate a second spermwhale, called Rua (the maori for two - he has two nicks in his dorsal fin) and he put on the same display after giving us some super shots of his back. Kaikoura is the dogs!
That evening we hoofed it up to Picton, stayed overnight in a DOC site and caught the ferry to the North Island the next morning, followed by a marathon drive up to Rotorua. We only had one full day here so we decided to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (Thermal Stinkyland) and do get some adreneline pumping by doing a Swoop (I didnt know what I was letting myself in for).
This blog is getting extremely long, so I'll rush through the last bit! Wai-O-Tapu is a huge area of geothermal springs, mud pools and underground streams heated by magma from the last batch of volcanic activity. The minerals dissolved in the hot water of the underground streams get released at the surface giving rise to great plumes of steam
or, as we affectionately came to call it, arse mist. Basically, the main component seems to be sulfur, which as you probably all know, smells of rotten eggs - or somebody else's farts. Poor Simon found it very hard to cope and nearly vommed on his shoes a few times! The mineral deposits create deposits and pools of weird colours from yellow, to purple to orange depending on the mineral and there are also bubbling mud pools! Deadly! But stinky.
That afternoon, to clear our lungs and nostrils of any remaining arse mist particles, we decided to do the Rotorua Swoop, which I thought was just a really big swing where they stick you in a sleeping bag type thing, and you swing from side to side quite quickly (130kph). I was obviously being very blonde that day as I didnt quite work out that to gain speeds of 130kpm you need to be dropped from a height. 40 fooking meters! I still hadnt quite copped this when they had tied us into the sleeping bag things, but as we were being winched up towards the bungy platform, I began to get the idea. There was no escape. Holy
Mother Of God. Now, Im terrified of heights, and 40m might not seem like much to some of you, but I thought that I was going to die. Simon had to pull the release cord thingy. I was whimpering away. He pulled the cord and we FREE FELL for 12m! So, that's how you get to swing at 130kph...my stomach is still up there somewhere! Ive nicked some pics of the interweb to illustrate how high it is and I'll try to upload some pics of us mid swoop from the CD we got a little later on, don't have the CD with me just now. when I do, check out my eyes squeezed shut!
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